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Star Ruler (PC) artwork

Star Ruler (PC) review

"Star Ruler has the scope, devotion, and solid base to do great things and go great distances. Keep watch for something amazing."

Star Ruler is a title that reminds us that great games are not born, they are made. It reminds us that a great game isnít born great solely on budget, the size of the team, nor the backing of a huge distributor or brand name appeal. It's due to imagination, promise, and the sheer grit of the development team, no matter the size. This game started out like many others: poorly. It wasn't complete on release. It needed a patch on day zero and another within a week to fix bugs and problems. But, unlike many other games, youíre welcomed with the distinct feeling that the devs give a damn about their product. Probably just as much for the desperate need to rake back costs siphoned from their own pockets than an admirable sense of pride.

Star Ruler is an indie product through and through: the development team hovers around two; the budget is low and the slowly-growing player base is reliant on word of mouth before typical advertising. But, like all the better indie games, the developers have been seriously listening to their consumers, taking in their input and continuing to expand their universe with the first two patches and beyond. Talking with the developers, you get that impression that they truly do care about their product and that theyíre desperate to see it through to the end.

The limitations can be noticeable. Star Ruler's graphics are sub-par for what we're used to, and there are no race options. Itís depressingly obvious that there are bugs around every turn, and whereas all this would be a game killer if Blind Mind were some other studio, they pre-warned players of the existing issues and quickly promised, and effected, workarounds. What Star Ruler does have going for it, though, is rock solid mechanics, a highly devoted dev team, and a surprisingly capturing soundtrack.

The basic premise of Star Ruler is your standard 4X strategy fair, with heavy emphasis on eXpand and eXploit. You start with a single colony and from there, with proper fleet management and refined blueprints, you can easily spread to over 100 systems in less than 10 minutes. The scale of the game is somewhere between massive and unbelievable, where each system provides resources and each is as equally tradable as the last. But all resources must be balanced against one another in order to maintain maximum ship production efficiency. Resources can be traded on the empire scale and inside each individual system, forcing you to make choices on the finite space on each planet on what to build and how to tailor them to the situation. When it becomes too much for one person to handle, Star Ruler allows you the option to turn on AI-controlled planet governors to take the workload off your hands.

In the case of building ships, the blueprints mechanic is easy to learn and difficult to master. As you research new technologies, new subsystems for your ships are unlocked, allowing you to redraft supplied blueprints or freely design your own. You are allowed to pick the scale, from 0.35 (fighter size) to 999999 (bigger than the solar system) to E+31 (that's bigger than God) and the stats scale along with it, as well as the resources needed to build such a monstrosity. Itís in the unit production and scale that Star Ruler makes its money. Itís the primary mechanics that sets the game apart from other 4X games, giving you the freedom to design your own ships, uniquely tailored to a single objective, or so well refined that they make efficient main fleets. The depth of ship designs are seemingly endless, and when I look at the system I honestly feel like I'm wading in the shallows, peering over the ridge at things both marvelous and unknown. Furthermore, building your own Death Star is too damn cool.

Itís just one of the things that vies to viciously grab your attention; Star Ruler immediately sets the scene with its ambitious scope and exceptional music. Itís distinctly within the expected flavor for a space-based game, but different enough to distinguish itself. The soundtrack, especially, is healthy and refreshing, with enough breadth to avoid becoming stale and monotonous while you devour planets and explode stars.

While Star Ruler has its fair share of bugs, and is distinctly lacking the overt polish that we expect from a big time developer, the scale and atmosphere of the game are solid. Driven by dependable mechanics that are constantly updated, along with a growing community of supportive fans and contributors, Star Ruler is destined for greatness. In its current state, if you can brush away your ingrained need for flashy graphics and high production values and appreciate the game for what it is, and the promise it contains, then you will enjoy an already solid and fun experience. Star Ruler has the scope, devotion, and solid base to do great things and go great distances. Keep watch for something amazing.


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Staff review by Richard Culver (August 27, 2010)

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